Audience reactions to his opera and the need for more new Australian Opera

Thomas Rimes talks about audience reactions to The Long Ride Home and the need for more new Australian Opera.

[Excerpts from Thomas Rimes’ Interview with Ingrid Scott]

I.S. I hope you heard the reactions of the audience at the Premiere of The Long Ride Home.
T.R. I got a great feeling from what people said to me about what the whole piece meant to them. I heard a lot of comments about specific things in the opera that people enjoyed, or found meaningful. That made me very happy because from the very beginning of the writing process I was very moved by the story, and I thought that a lot of other people would be also. There were universal things about the story that I thought would make for a very good opera. Also I was excited to make something specifically set in Australia, about people and characters I knew growing up. I felt people would appreciate seeing Australian characters on the opera stage. There’s no precedent for an Australia bush opera or Australian country opera and I think that the audience really responded to that.

I thought about the novelty of the Australian setting a lot. When I was in the process of producing the opera in Sydney, I told many people why I believed that the premiere should be done in Australia. I also found that the people who heard about the opera had no point of reference to what Australian opera would be as a style. There had been no definitive Australian opera that Australian audiences had embraced. For this reason the whole genre of “Australian Opera” was a blank slate. I find this surprising, particularly when you think of all the amazing, internationally famous opera singers that have come from Australia, not to mention directors and conductors. It’s also surprising considering that the Sydney Opera House is such an iconic building - the most recognised opera house in the world. Despite having this dominant symbol of the arts no Australian opera that has taken a foothold in the repertoire in Australia. I think that the Sydney Opera House should be looking for Australian repertoire that will connect with audiences. It’s a great pity that a large part of Opera Australia’s season doesn’t feature Australian opera. I hope that my opera The Long Ride Home can go some way towards establishing Australian Opera as a viable genre which has popular appeal. I hope that this could also be an inspiration to other opera composers in the country.

Again, I think it comes down to people in the opera industry being more ambitious with what they aspire to produce. In a lot of cases an opera house will spend a majority of their production and marketing budget on new “innovative” productions of repertoire pieces: a “new Bohème” or a “new Ring Cycle” and so on, and audiences will be persuaded that the company is doing innovative and relevant work. I think this continual reworking of old pieces is a symptom of a great lack of creativity and a lack of good new material in the opera work. It also feeds into the problem that people continually complain about - of how the opera audience is not growing. I think that people in the opera world with creative talents should be aspiring to create something completely new that will have a meaningful impact. To use a recent example, even with the outstanding “La Bohème” production in Australia in the early nineties which was considered a stand-out hit; when you look at it in hindsight, it doesn’t seem that this made any lasting impact on making opera more relevant or more meaningful to the public. Since then it has been the same old, same old. For this reason it is critical that the opera industry looks at new pieces in a creative way and to encourage composers to write for audiences in a different way. I think that would solve the problem everyone complains about; which is how to make opera relevant, and how to create younger audiences.

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